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Digital rights groups fight back against biometric campaign
A digital rights group fights Israel’s biometric database law, set to go into effect on July 3; 'What the state is doing with this campaign is to encourage people to join a controversial database,' says the NGO's attorney, as it pushes to prevent the system from being implemented.

A digital rights group has stepped up efforts to fight Israel’s biometric database law, set to go into effect on July 3. The Movement for Digital Rights, an NGO dedicated to protecting and advancing personal and community rights in the age of the internet, asked the High Court of Justice Sunday to block advertisements that are set to be published in the Hebrew-language press over the coming days portraying the new database as “Bio: Smart Upgrading For Everyone.”

 

 

The group said the ad campaign was misleading because it failed to spell out the dangers inherent to the public.

 

A biometric station at Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo: Israel Airport Authority)
A biometric station at Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo: Israel Airport Authority)

 

The movement’s attorney Yonatan Braverman said his client “wants to block (the government’s) ability to mislead the public. What the state is doing with this campaign is to encourage people to join a controversial database … in a way that will make it significantly harder to conduct the appeal we have filed against the database. It is clear to all that this advertisement is a breach of the agreements that the Movement for Digital Rights reached with the state at the High Court of Justice. They even appear to be violating the agreements that were given to the state by the law.”

 

The idea to create a biometric database of every Israeli citizen has been controversial from the start. Academics and civil rights activists say the collection of personal details, including fingerprints, facial recognition photography and other details is potentially a violation of privacy rights. They also add that the nature of the digital world means the information is susceptible to being stolen.

 

“What happens if there is a leak?” asked Eli Biham, a professor of computer science at the Technion, Israeli Institute of Technology, and one of Israel’s leading cryptographers. “It’s not like it never happens. America’s database was hacked a year or two ago, with all the fingerprints and biometric details of senior officials,” said Biham.

 

Biham said there are other options available in order to prevent double identities and criminal operations, but the government was simply not interested in hearing them.

 

Biham said that there are a wide range of options for biometric ID of people that are much, much less harmful and invasive than face scans and fingerprints. He added that faces can be photographed from afar, fingerprints can be taken from things you’ve touched and then easily copied from the database.

 

“Some biometric methods can’t be taken from a person from afar without his or her agreement. That’s good enough for the type of database they are trying to build—trying to positively identify a person when they come to the Interior Ministry for a new passport or ID card. But they didn’t even check those options. They deliberately wanted these specific stats,” Biham said.

 

Government spokespersons dismissed the Movement for Digital Rights as a “small group of activists that represent only themselves” and added that as both terrorists and criminals have the ability to forge identity documents with personal computers with ease, there is a need for measures that make it harder for documents to be forged.

 

Reprinted with permission from TPS

 

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